STERLING – After duking it out with Dixon and picking up a 53-30 victory Friday night, Sterling seniors Tre Whittaker and Zack Everett were trying to settle another feud outside the Golden Warriors' locker room at Musgrove Fieldhouse.
The miniature University of Illinois basketball Everett was holding goes to the player who best stuffs the stat sheet.
"It's a play hard, play smart, play together ball," Everett said. "It's got stats, rebounds, steals, blocks, all that stuff. We're going back and forth, and we're adding it up to see who beat each other out."
Sorry, Zack. At least for Friday night, the ball belongs to Whittaker, who scored 12 points, grabbed eight rebounds – five of them offensive – and notched two blocks and an assist in the Sauk Valley Shootout contest.
The Dukes (0-4) led their Route 2 rival 14-12 early in the second quarter before Sterling (3-1) strung a 22-4 run early into the third. Whittaker, who shot 4-for-4 at the free-throw line, triggered the surge with a pair of throws.
Four minutes later, Everett spun into the lane and hit a slick left-handed hook to make it 25-14. His night was nothing to sneeze at, as he scored seven points and racked up six rebounds (five offensive), two steals and a block. Twenty-one of Sterling's 44 rebounds were offensive. Bentley Grell led the team with nine boards.
Alex Soriano, who scored a game-high 16 points, pulled up over Matt Coffey off the dribble along the baseline to drain a 13-footer at the end of the half. Soriano swished a 3 from the right corner off an assist by Micah Miller early in the third to make it 32-18.
Dixon freshman Isaiah Roby, who scored a team-high eight points and grabbed 11 of the Dukes' 29 rebounds, drove and kicked to Michael Conley, who swished a 16-footer with 2 minutes gone by in the third to make it 34-20.
But 30 seconds and a substitution later, Dixon coach Jason Mead called a timeout and broke a clipboard before getting into his players. Only four of them were on the floor when he stopped play.
The Dukes responded, making it 34-28 Sterling with a 10-0 run capped by a Coffey 3 from the left corner. But Soriano, unmarked, splashed a 3 from the top of the key on Sterling's next trip.
"We obviously had good moments during the game – winning the first quarter and a nice run in the third to cut it to six – but then we gave up an open 3," Mead said. "We do some real good things and then make some inexperienced mistakes that end up hurting us.
Sterling closed the game on an 8-0 run.
"I don't think we came out expecting them to put up as much of a fight as they did," Everett admitted. "After the first half, we just kind of said, 'Let's put it on them.' "
The ability to do so? That's bred in practice, in which first-year Sterling coach Jim Preston pits Everett and Whittaker against each other. Warriors fans can look forward to that precious rubber ball bouncing back and forth a lot.
"It just makes us even more competitive on the court when our coach puts us up against each other," Whittaker said. "It makes us a whole lot better at practices and in games, especially since both really, really hate losing."
Star of the game: Tre Whittaker, Sterling, 12 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 blocks, assist
Key performers: Isaiah Roby, Dixon, 8 points, 11 rebounds; Zack Everett, Sterling, 7 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, block; Alex Soriano, Sterling, 16 points, 2 steals
Up next: Sauk Valley Shootout (both games tonight at Sterling) – Dixon vs. Princeton, 5; Sterling vs. Rock Falls, 8